George AsclleHbrellller, SI

Portrait of the Authentic Celibate
in Our American Culture
Authelltic celibacy is never possible
ill OLlr cOHtemporary Amen'c{l11
cliiture withollt the prope,' cOllstella-
tioll of the fOllr esselltial aspects
treated here: Contemplation,
Gratitude, Vuhl erability, Gell erosity
{Illd Genera tiv i tV. TJr is is t Il e cell tra I
message of this 10llg di scussi on.
A portrait differs from a photograph. Though some professional
photographers are genui ne artists and can crea te special effects,
photos usually reproduce what the camera sees. What is seen is
what you get. Whereas a portrait involves shifting shades of li ght
and shadow to communicate the arti st' s unique view of the subject.
Different people paint different port raits of the same subject.
The portrait presented here is one man's view both of our present
American cul tural context and of the au thentic cel ibate. I am no t
a cultural anthropologist by profession, so 1 will rei y on the insights
of other observers of the present American cultll ral scene. As one
man's view, the portrait here is not thoroughly complete and , there-
fore, invites the reader's own further development of the description.
What is presented, however, does provide an example, provocative
of further insight int o the portrait of the authentic celibate.
The portrai t of celi bacy in. this article is not an idealized one, dis-
embodied, detached from any cultural context. No, it is precisely
the contemporary American cultural context that puts son1e sharp
teeth on the challenge facing a vocation to an authenti c celibate
lifestyle today. Though my prime focus here is limi ted to seminary
formation for celibacy in diocesan priesthood, this article can have
bearing for other settings, for example, religious life and a dedi-
cated lay single life. The celibacy intended here is, first and fore-
most, a re li g ious experience. Therefore, many of the fo ll owing
insights can enrich both the appreciatIOn of any religiously moti-
vated celibacy and the challenge of format ion for such a lifestyle in
OUf contemporary culture.
The present American cultural context surely makes formation
fo r diocesan pries tly cel ibacy different from that of years gone by. In
some ways, not only does it make this forma tion different, but it
raises the bar a number of notches and increases the chall enge con-
siderably. So, I wri te not as a na"ive cheerleader for celibacy in the
21s t century. While recogni zing the sharpened teeth of thi s new
chall enge, I g ive expression to a profound personal convict ion
about the value of pries tly celibacy. But, I write also of celi bacy's
importance in a reverse cl aim: rel igiously moti vated celibacy bares
its own teeth quietly and sharply in the face of our contemporary
American cul ture.
The perspective from which I write is also controversial today,
and not uncontested, bu t requires clarity from the very beginni ng.
My pri me focus is not to recommend optional celibacy for priestly
candidates . [ do not wri te unaware, both of the impor tance of daily
Eucharist in parishes, and the continuing decrease of this avai lability
in some parishes. In this article, however, my approach to this diffi-
cult situation is to explore ways of facilitating the li vely contelnpla-
tive Cl hnosphe re that n1akes mature spiritual growth possible. This
special almosphere and spi ritual development can invite and allow
more men to recognize and respond to God's call to an authent ic
life of priestly celi bacy, which is culturally eXClting, challenging and
important. Everythi ng in this article aims at this clear goal.
TI,e first version of this article was completed before" A Report
on the Crisis in the Catholic Church i.n the United States" appeared
(Washington, DC: USCCB, 2004). Having now read the report care-
fully, I n1ake a few commen ts. I appreciate the lay Comlnission's
serious investigation and evaluati on of the "causes and context" of
the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. The report wi ll surely
provoke Jl1llch reflecti on and son'"le serious renewal in the recogni-
ti on and formation of suitable candidates for priestly ordination.
Though the report may not have been the appropriate forum for
such a treatment, I strongly suggest tha t we must recogni ze and
describe in much greater detail the profound exciting spirituality
that essenti all y lmderlies and motivates-actually defines- priestly
celibacy if it is to serve God and the Church with the in spiration
and effecti veness so urgently needed at this time (ibid., 83-91).
This arti cle will develop through a number of steps. First, I will
present a brief descri ption of a model for Christi an anthropology to
serve as a background reference all through the articl e' s develop-
ment. TI1en I will sketch four aspects of our American cultural scene
leaning heavil y on Ronald Jl. ol heiser, OMI, in his book The Shattered
Lal1tern (Crossroad: N. Y., 1997). After a quick review of an under-
standing of seminary formation, I will describe four essential
acteristics of the authent ic celibate in the 21s t century. Some
conclusions will point the chall enge with which this celibacy por-
trait confronts seminary staffs and many other interested parties.
Christ ian revelati on presents a vision of what it means to be
a human person (d. G. Aschenbrenner, SI, "A Hidden Self Grown
Strong," in Handbook of Spirituality for Ministers, Vol. 1, ed. Robert J,
Wicks [New York: Pauli st, 1995], 228-48). Three di mensions consti"
tute , .J Ut" pe rsonal exis tence when it is v iewed in Christian fai th ..
A level of external behavior develops early in our personal his tory.
The baby develops quickly its own routine of external activity.
reali ty of this external routi ne stands forth exposed and percepti-
ble, often Ini rrored in the adoring gaze of parents. A detective ean
also eaSi ly track down thi s external evidence in the case of a s us-
pected criminal. The evidence is not hidden but readily available
for observation. But such evidence is merely circwnstantial. A more
profound area of personal motive is needed to make a compelling
court case.
So this external behavioral dimension is real enough, but, in
itself, is superfici al and not revelatory of profound personal moti-
vation. To identify and value ourselves or others si mply by what
we do is dangerously short-sighted and pays disastrous dividend s
for uS all in the end. When the elder years seriously decrease acti v-
ity and doing, too many seeds of identity sown in what has been
done now reap a harvest of self-doubt, frustration, even anger in
our hearts. Who we are is much more ferti le and profound than the
topsoil of busy external activity. Despite its superficial nature, this
external dimension is not unimportant in Christian discipleship.
The genuineness of our faith is tested and expressed in sincere
loving of all our brothers and sisters in the human family. Both the
letter of james and the first letter of john, together with some say-
ings of jesus himself, are frighteningly clear about this. Though the
temptation to do so can seduce us in many ways, actually to limit
our spirituality, our priesthood, our celibacy to this dimension of
external behavior is always not only short-sighted, but futile, even
destructive in the long run.
Another part of every human person can be named the skin of
the soul. The image of skin catches the phenomenon happening on
this dimension. The spontaneity of feeling, emotion, and affectiv-
ity, often sudden and star tling, flashes forth here. Feeling and spon-
taneity in mood and impulse blow across this part of us with a pace
that is unpredictable and fluctuating. The spontaneity of feeling and
emotion is very real; it marks the skin of our soul and gives passion
to a person. But it is not trustworthy because of its unpredictable
fluctuation. In the Christian view, a human person runs deeper than
feeling. To plant identity in the garden of feeling also reaps a prob-
lematic, dangerous harvest in the future.
The core of the soul is the most profound, personal, unique
dimension of any human person. The core lies beyond spontaneity,
behavior, feeling; it must, however, be developed over time. This
important aspect is potentially present from the beginning of con-
ception and gestation. But wi thout careful cooperation and devel-
opment, thi s profoundly personal center lies inert, unavailable,
actually unreal, in a person's makeup. But when present and
acknowledged, this unique center reveals and roots our true self as
being created, as being loved into being, by God in the existential
regularity of our breathing, moment-by-moment. For such a person
the invi tati on of life is to choose and decide, actually to live, always
from this deepest center. This treasure, slowly unearthed with time,
radiates identi ty and being beyond, though not totally isolated
from, feeling and behavior. Here, 1 am. This identi ty gives light and
direction in the densely populated dimensions of feeling and exter-
nal behavior.
Mature Chri stian faith always involves more than the indoctri-
nation of a set of right actions and feelings as opposed to a set seen
as wrong and unbecoming. Christian identity blossoms in a pro-
found personal relationship of love with God focused in the risen
Jesus present now in the Spirit. This uniquely personal relationship,
rooted deep in the core of the soul, provides discerning light and
courage for choice in the face of the multitude of spontaneous
impulses coursing on the skin of the soul, and of the distracting
variety of activity available externally.
Though culture is expressed in symbols, articulated messages, and
patterns of interpersonal behavior, its most captivating expression
is more elusive and invisible. An attitude, a mentality, usually not
capitalized in so many letters on a billboard, permeates the air we
breathe. When we consider the unhealthy, harmful aspect of our
culture, the dangerous fact is that we breathe this pollution into our
bloodstream without realizing it. Arteries and veins carry the infec-
tion to every part of our system. Such infection threatens our heart. In
the following delineation the cultural threat at times is blatant, even
obnoxious. But the most serious attack is much more subtle, much
more difficult to detect, but much more dangerous and deadly.
My concern here can seem overly negative and limited. By high-
lighting the cul tural challenges to an authentic celibate lifestyle, Ida
not intend this discussion to become another "damn all culture"
broadside. These cultural infl uences are not totally bad. Some truth
resides in each one. But when pushed to an extreme out of reason-
able proportion, they become harmful, not only to a celibate lifestyle,
but to any authentically human lifestyle. Also, as mentioned earlier,
SOme important contemporary cultural elements are intentionally
bypassed: globalization, telecorrummication, to mention just a couple.
These limits both invite the reader's active involvement and keep
the treatment here manageable, yet incomplete.
In the first part of his book, The Shattered Lalltern, Ron Rolheiser
describes the loss of a contemplative dimension in contemporary
In Western culture today . .. most of us have an atro-
phied contemplative faculty, a muddied self-awareness.
God is present to us, but we are not present to God. We
lack contemplativeness; and because of this, we lack
a vital experience of God. The eclipse of God in ordinary
awareness is, in the end, a fault in contemplation
(Rolheiser, op. cit., 19).
Rolheiser attributes this loss of contemplativeness to three fac-
tors: narcissism, pragmatism, and unbridled restlessness (ibid., 24-
43). To these three [ will add a fourth factor, a widespread distorted
sexual preoccupation that especially threatens a celibate lifestyle.
1. Narcissism. Narcissus' entrancing gaze into the pool typifies
a tendency in every human heart. Today, however, the tendency to
be entranced by, to be locked into, that self-captivating reflection in
the pool is much more pervasive, even legitimated. Why would not
I myself be the ultimate meaning of my own life: so goes the ratio-
nale. Self-development assumes such an importance that, for many
people, it becomes the religion. Any ascetical sacrifice and hardship
accepted and practiced is to further my own cause. How many cor-
porate middle managers, reversing the expectation, work at times
from five to nine, and usually to further thei r own careers.
An autonomy, regaled in a quietly determined arrogance, takes
charge of one's life with a fierceness and an insensitivity that fright-
ens and spurns other people. In such a vision, however implicit it
may be, only whatever obviously furthers my own self-development
and career can be confirmed as a call from God. Rather than to be
served, the other becomes a means to my own advancement. This
secular, selfish autonomy is shockingly different from Christian per-
sonal autonomy, which is always born of gazing into the pool of
forgiveness revealed in Jesus on the cross (see G. Aschenbrenner, 5),
"I Want To Be Like God: A Birthright for Autonomy," in Handbook of
Spirituality for Ministers, vol. 2, 227-34).
Even when the placid waters of Narcissus' pool are stirred, and
troubled furrows appear on the cOW1tenance mirrored there, the cap-
tivating trance, difficult to break, continues to infect the blood cours-
ing through the whole system. Such a warped, selfish, fixating gaze
will always distract and deride any thought of celibacy. The blatant
grossness of the description here should not put us off. It is meant
to sensitize us to the subtle pollution in the air, a pollution whose
air index is always low and demoralizing for a celibate lifestyle.
2. Pragmatism. We Americans take pride in being a practical
people. Our short patience has little time for theorizing and for, what
seems to us, pointless rumination. We are "bottom-line" people.
And the "bottom-line" finally is: Does it work? Does it produce? In
fact, lurking in this concern is the belief: if it works, if it produces, it
must be true and good, a goal to be pursued and actualized. Once
again some truth resides in this belief; in some cases the final test
for a plan or project is whether it produces the desired effect. But
when this belief is pushed to the extreme of a universal principle of
validation for truth and riglctness, then it stunts the human enter-
prise and misleads us in our pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty.
This stress on the value of perceptible results highlights an
incarnational view of the Christian religion over a transcendent
view. We want a God with skin, someone to be seen, touched,
heard, and grasped in the visibility of living color. Surely God is not
very real if not encountered in the human details of daily living.
But serious Christian living is never as easy and obvious as to
involve only the charged flow of spontaneous feeling, impulse, and
activity. Only if a profound foundation is experienced beyond the
flashing surface of consciousness, can we find a God, faithful and
loving beyond imagining, in everything. The ,incarnational experi-
ence is always born and rooted in a profoundly transcendent
moment. A God whose love gives being to everything, whose love
holds each of us in being, beckons us to a reality and a faith beyond
any human skin or viSibility. And from this depth comes the gradual
awareness of a glorious love shimmering everywhere without any
exception. The incarnational and transcendent aspects of Christian
living are always inextricably related: one without the other never
reveals our God, victorious in Jesus Risen (ct. , G. Aschenbrenner, Sj,
Quickening the Fire in Our Midst: The Challenge of Diocesan Priestly
Spirituality [Chicago: Loyola Press, 2002], 17-20; 24 -25; and
K. Rahner, Sj, "Ignatian Mysticism of Joy in the World," in Theological
Investigations, vol. 3 [Baltimore: Helicon, 1967], 281-3).
This excessive pragmatism also affects the contemplative
dimension of life. Contemplation, at its deepes t center, is non-
utilitarian. We do not enter contemplation to achieve anything, but
to be with the beloved. This cherished being-with reveals and con-
firms the beauty of our true self in Christ. But when too much prag-
matism pollutes our breathing, then we feel good about ourselves
only when we are doing useful things, accomplishments usually
aimed at winning money and adulation. A Time article put it well,
"wi th too li ttle time for sleep there is also too little time for dreams"
(April 24, 1989,48-55, cited in Rolheiser, The Shattered Lantern, 35).
In thi s overly pragmatic atmosphere, the witness of a celibate
lifestyle is stunted, smothered, short-circuited. The full fl ash of
celibacy'S witness to a God whose faithful love is beyond anything
of our human world is clouded over in an overly pragmatic view, is
burned out in an excessive engagement with immediate details and
challenges. Let me not be mi sunderstood at this point. Religiously
motivated celibacy surely energizes people for dealing with the
daily details of life, but only because its chief witness and most pro-
found experience point to a God of love beautiful and fai thful
beyond any li mit or failure. In an excessively pragmatic cul ture, this
transcendent witness loses immediacy and attractiveness.
3. Unbridled Restlessness . Oftentimes the thi rst of our culture for
novelty verges on the ridiculous. The fear of boredom in the dail y
monotony of life unleashes a restlessness, a hankering for ever more
and ever new experiences. Something untried or untasted casts an
almost unavoidable lure over our hearts . The sheer undiscriminat-
ing greed of such restlessness is braci ng and saddening. "Channel
surfing" becomes a way of li fe, a life that is superficial, skimming
the surface, and restlessly fati guing.
Greedy restlessness can drive the human heart into an uncon-
trolled variety of experiences beyond plan or personal desire. An
obsessive drivenness captivates one's attenti on and energy, shredding
any possibility of settled peace and stability. The thirst and search for
perpetual novelty disrupts the patience needed for developing a rev-
erent interiority. A life of activity peacefully and decisively chosen
from a free restful center of loved identity befuddles life's channel-
surfer. The balance of patience and reverence needed to discern and
practice the chasti ty of appropriate interpersonal bOlmdaries in daily
situati ons is smothered in unbridled haste and compulSion. This
kind of impatient, rushed, irreverent presence to reality is unchaste
in itsel f, even when the situation is not overtly sexual. The call to a
celibate lifestyle stands little chance, not only of response, but even
of recognition in the heat and rush of this compulsion.
4. Widespread, Distorted SexlIal Preoccupation. The sexual tone
and consciousness of our culture has changed enormously in the
last 50 years. That change seems to continue and intensify almost
daily. This tumultuous change defies thorough descripti on in a lim-
ited discussion such as thi s. For thi s reason I will singl e out only
four aspects of the ongoing sexual revolution that challenge a celi-
ba te lifestyle today.
First, the heart' s healthy craving for love and intimacy now fixes
on the physicality of genital activity. For many people a sly assump-
tion has been smuggled into their subconscious: genuine intimacy
and love cannot be known wi thout genital relationship and physical
fatherhood. To imagine a fulfilled life without these two essentials is
beyond the ken of many younger people today. Disappointment
and frustration inhabit a heart that is not engaged in these two
sexual activities.
Second, as a result of the first belief, for many men, an unac-
knowledged though powerfully influential presumption is that
proof of manhood demands genital involvement. Whether one is
reall y a man needs to be proven -and is proven in conquests of
genital performance. OUf communi cation media have very effec-
tive ways of implanting and activating this ploy for identity. In such
a scene, interpersonal relationships are often slashed and coarsened
in a way that is ominous for the future fabric of our society.
Third, "coming out" publicly in sexual orientation is an invita-
tion, at times a challenge, whose intensity can hardly be resisted. [n
fact, this challenging invitation freezes the psychic attention of
some people in an absorption of energy that is all-encompassing.
Often the pnvate iru1er life of these people is haunted by the issue
of sexual orientation, and no one else knows but themselves.
Frightened in a menacing turmoil they grapple with an issue that
stares into their heart with an apparent importance beyond all else.
For others the issue seems much simpler: they get swept up, rather
unreflectively, in the public groundswell.
This is not the place for a treatment of sexual orientation and
human identity. My concern is simply to notice a phenomenon that
is new and strong in our contemporary culture. I am not denying
the importance of sexual orientation, whether heterosexual or
homosexual, in the composi te of human identity. However, as we
will see in the treahnent of the next aspect, sexual orientation, how-
ever difficult it may be in discovery and acknowledgment, is not
all-consuming. It is neither the most important nor the most pro-
found truth about a human being. However, for a variety of reasons
in our present culture, for many people this issue has catapulted to
the top of the agenda of human development. Because of past mis-
understanding, fear, lmjust prejudice, and present heightened atten-
tion in the media, the homosexual orientati on, more than the
heterosexual, has been electrifi ed, haunted, with this excessive
absorption and challenge.
Fourth, homosexual and heterosexual assume the importance.of
nouns rather than adjectives, not only in grammar usage, but espe-
cially in our subliminal awareness (see K. Clark, OFM Cap., Being
Sexual . .. and Celibate [Notre Dame: Ave Maria, 1986], 135). (By the
way, the two are not unrelated: the grammar with which we speak
does affect, however unconsciously, our personal understanding.)
As nouns, these words of sexual orientation are presumed to
express the tota lity of human identity. The adjectival use, on the
other hand, assumes that sexual orientation surely is an important
and profoundly influenCing aspect of our identity; but such usage
also professes a central core of identity beyond sexual orientation.
The homosexually and heterosexually oriented person is pro-
foundly rooted in and importantly identified by a core of divine
. love. This love, thi s real presence of God in the core of the soul,
rings witha clarity, a fidelity, a simplicity of sheer goodness. This
sheer goodness lights the way in sorting out and recognizing the
same divine love present and at work in all the darksome entangle-
ments of behavior and impulsive spontaneity on the skin of soul.
Our culture's hype and preoccupation with sexual orientation often
distracts from, even promotes disbelief of, that central core of good-
ness, of being, of identity. In this way the energy of li fe and love
,ets squandered, misspent, on the spontanei ty of the skin of the
;oul, rather than leading to and springing from the treasure, the
iiamond, sparkling at the core of each of us.
These four aspects of distorted sexual preoccupation in our con-
emporary culture, while not thoroughly complete, do proVide an
xample of the chall enge facing any authentic celibate lifestyle
)day. This whole sketch of our American culture presents in sharp
,lief the challenges that face anyone con templating a celibate
restyle. In the second part of this article, after reenforcing the
.ture and importance of seminary formation, J will describe four
peets of authentic celibacy as it responds courageously and con-
nplatively to the challenges of contemporary culture.
11Iinary Formation. Contemporary culture has significantly
-ped the ante of challenge for semi nary formation, especially
;arding the discernment and development of an authentic celibate
,style. For this reason, a brief treatment of seminary formation
.vides the necessary context for the second part of this article.
In the face of the contemporary cul ture of 21st century America,
challenge and importance of seminary training stands forth
n more than in the past. Seminary is much more than a geo-
ohie place, a faculty and staff, a course of studies. Obviously
.e and other elements play an important role in pri estly train-
But seminary is, most importantly, a profound process of re-
lation, a process of radical reorientation of a man to the roots
is faith and person. This profound realignment of a person
es an honest recogni tion of personal preferences regarding '
.es, food, rel ationships, and lots of other experiences in life. It
"es serious reflection and acknowledgment of sexual orienta-
, sexual need, drive fulfillment/ and romantic attraction. It
!Stigates a person's contemplative proclivity, his practice of
tical sacrifice and solitude. As a seed bed of priestly vocation,
this seminary radical reorientation stirs the soil of a man's heart, so
as to uncover the seeds; the evidence, of the essential charisms that
constitute the composite identity of diocesan priestly identity and
ministry (see G. Aschenbrenner, Quickening the Fire). One of these
charisms is the life and ministry of priestly celibacy (ibid., chap. 11).
This process of personal reformati on has another important
dimension to it. A thorough blood transfusion works a radical
purification of the blood flow and reorients the seminarian's heart.
The process is not as simple as spilling out all the infected blood
and infusing fresh, healthy blood. No, the process is subtler and
profoundly personal. The pollution of some cultural impurities
must be detected and transformed, while other cultural purities in
the bloodstream must be preserved and developed. After years of
breathing the air of our culture, the seminarian has a bloodstream
infected with a pollution much more deadly than he realizes, as he
enters the seminary. Much of this serious blood work, this transfor-
mation of blood-quality, will concern the vocation and development
of an authentic celibate identity and lifestyle.
The air and spirit of our American 21st century culture heightens
and sharpens the challenge facing an authentic celibate. The previ-
ous description of our contemporary culture, therefore, presents
a balance of shifting shades of light and shadow for creating the
portrait of authentic celibacy today. I will paint the portrait as com-
posed of four essential characteristics that provide their own light
and shadow to interact with and, at times, to counteract the shades
of the contemporary culture. The qualities of contemplation, grati-
tude, vulnerability, and generosity create a celibate portrait, excit-
ingly challenging and inspiringly attractive for 21st century
diocesan priests.
1.CoJltempiatiolJ. Much of the contemporary cultural scene
requires a second look, much more than a quick first glance.
Contemplation is the ability to see beyond the surface. William
McNamara, oeD, is usually referred to as the source for viewing
contemplation as a long, loving look at the real. In a long, loving
look, we realize that the real has hidden depths of being, of good-
ness, of beauty, and that it stretches far beyond what can be seen,
heard, and felt. Yet only as contemplation learns to relish the sen-
sual delight of seeing, feeling, touching does it stumble in awe upon
"the dearest freshness deep down things" (G. M. Hopkins, "God's
Grandeur," in Poems and Prose of Gerard Manley Hopkins [Baltimore:
Penguin Books, 1953], 27). But this metaphysical depth, this reality
beyond the physical, has been lost in most of modernity and post-
modernity. Without a contemplative retrieval of this lost reality,
religiously motivated celibacy will wane and slacken.
Rather than rushing past in a quick glance, the contemplative
sensitivity is slowed down, awed in a quiet interiority that reveals
not a wasteful sluggishness, but an interpersonal intimacy in soli·
tude. A lot more than rushing and doing has been found in liie, and
has been tasted. This solitude works its own transformation if we
will perdure in it, and not settle for a nodding acquaintance from I
afar. Henri Nouwen tells us that solitude is a hot furnace of persOlliO, j
transformation so it is not spontaneously attractive (see H. r .. .. J
Nouwen, Tile Way of the Heart [New York: Seabury, 1981], 25-40')k ,
But its transformation worked in the sweating, burning,
the heated furnace gives birth to an ever greater 'j
istry, as a nervolls, compulsive motivation is slowly recognized atlg ·1
curtailed. This solitude with its attendant transformation is not jusf
for introverted candidates. It cuts to the religiOUS heart of seminat'i}'
training. Compassionate ministry touches people very differently
than does compulSive service. The Good News in Jesus is
sionate, not compulsive-and the people served learn this ql1icklx.
Contemplation's long, loving look lures us beyond the suria'rie
of life into an awesome, inspiring experience of a LOVE beyond "iJ
love. This Love is the creative source of all life and reality. It is
a Love personal, intimate, and faithful beyond our usual experi-
ence; it sparkles and resonates in the core of soul of us all . The grad-
ual development of this experience of Love deepens contemplation
and extends the long, loving look and divine recogni tion to more
and more of the real. Howevec as mentioned earlier, the overly
incarnational flair of our culture can fixate on the emotional intimacy
of human love and block the transcendent depth of God's Love.
Most celibate vocations spring fron1 a Love born in, and yet
greater, than the human. The contemplative experience of God's
love and beauty gradually becomes overwhelming. Such Love,
while the source of all other love, is unlike any other. God's Love
thus lures us out of control, loosens the fingers of control on our
own life; we feel overwhelmed, fall ing out of control in trust of this
Love fascinating and trustworthy beyond all else. For some people,
this overwhelming experience reveals a humanly unmarriageable
quality to their religious experience. T1Us does not speak of a human
immaturity rendering them not fit for married life. Such a human
immaturity should discount a man also for a celibate lifestyle. The
seminarian must find himself maturely fit for and, in some way,
attracted to married life. In his experience of God, however, a spe-
cial spousal quality bespeaks not a rejection or fear of married life,
but the entrancing intimate finding of a special Someone (see P. van
Breeman, Called By Name [Denville, NJ: Dimension, 1976], 241-52).
This distinctively spousal experience of a long, loving look at
the real finally reveals God-yes, God always in a long, loving look
at the reality of each of us. The surprise of this overwhelming real-
ization espollses the celibate to God and simplifies soul and
lifestyle. Many years ago a priest spoke of the celibate as empty and
poor for Christ (c. Davis, "Empty and Poor for Christ," America
[October 8, 1966], 419-20). Without the element of voluntary
poverty and Simplicity, the celibate lifestyle loses a God-orientation
and, in an unbelieving secular society, speaks of sexual fear and
cowardice, something quite different from what is intended. The
article delineates an important aspect of the contemporary celibate
portrait. However, the same article overlooked another important
shade of li ght in the portrait: joy. Just as "a comfortable bachelor-
dam is no sign of the Kingdom" (ibid. , 420), so a joyless dreariness
often masks a compulsive, patronizing service. Such dreariness
does not radi ate a spousal love and engagement with a God, who,
in Jesus, always looks long and lovingly at the true reality of us all.
Contemplation, the heart of the matter here, entrances us with God
in a spousal simplicity and joy.
At this point in the portrait, the authentic celibate lifestyl e
stands forth in a human response initiated in God's gift of a d is-
tinctive spousal relationship. But this distinctive response is always
made in a parti cular cultural context. Celibacy, as a reli gious
response to an invitation that is even more inspiringl y reli gious,
requires profound contemplati on. Many currents in the air flow of
21s t century culture will need to be purified and transformed so
that contemplation's long, loving look may spark in human hearts
the radiant glow of authentic celibacy.
2. Gratitllde. T1Us second shade in the celi bate portrait springs from
and depends upon the all-encompassing, central contemplative
focus. Rather than a superficial emotional impulse on the skin of the
soul, this grati tude responds to the gradual contemplative
ery that all is gift from God's long, loving, never-failing gaze. .
if contemplation does not short-circuit itself in sensual delights,
the depths of God's love in the core of the soul beckon and
in everything. Far beyond the claim and accomplishment of
love, a Creator-Gad's love shines and radi ates as a source of all
ity. As a result, this creative faithful love shines attractively as
dation, promise and inspiration of an everlasting fulfillment
which human hearts over all the ages have longed and desired_
Psalmist says it well: "Your love is better than life itself"
63:3) . Jesus through all his life and especially in his anguished
fering and dying knew in faith the encouragement of this
the presence of his Beloved Father. Everywhere, in ill
Beloved was with him-and is with us, gifting and inunersing
the dail y flow of life while, at the same time, inflaming our
hope with a love beyond anything of the here and now.
As contemplation'S eye sees beyond the surface and
a Beloved gifting in all, it transforms life itself into gratitude.
temporary, fluctuating thrill of gratitude will suffice in the
for a celibate vocation. Only if contemplati on continues to ;',
ever more deeply into the abundant sufficiency of God's love, aID
gratitude become the aromatic incense rising from and sanctifying
the heart' s daily service. .
The precious gifts of sexuality and of authentic celibacy whefl'
born of contemplation'S lOVing look bless a grateful life. Gifts artl
to be received, not controlled and manipulated. The more preciou,s
the gift, often the more difficult and demanding is the appropriate,
reverential reception. To celebrate the gift of sexuality flourishing
within a ce libate lifes tyle requi res profound, li vely faith, and
mature reverence to acknowledge hones tly the necessary interper-
sonal boundaries of chasti ty. The gifts of sexuality and celibacy are
not neutered by these chaste boundari es. Rather, in such a reveren-
tial setting, they flourish interpersonally. Separated from chastity's
reverential bOllndaries, these gifts derail and crash in the excesses
ei ther of interpersonal engagement or of impersonal avoidance.
The tradit ional phrase of celibacy "for the sake of" the Kingdom
of God is surely true, but can foster too pragmatic a view. The classic
text of Matthew 19:12 is better translated "because of" the Kingdom
of God (Francis Moloney, SOB, A Life of Promise [Wilmington, MD:
Michael Glazier, Inc. 1984], 106-07). This latter translation high-
lights the immediate existential experience of God's Love right now
as the invitation and cause of an authentic celibate lifestyle. Once
again, contemplative insight and intimacy beyond a superficial first
acquaintance of God's love bring gratitude to the forefront of a human
heart, and, in some cases, invite an authentic celibate lifestyle.
3. Vulllerability. Hardly to be avoided, but not easily acknowl-
edged in honesty, vulnerability li fts the gaze of our hearts beyond
ourselves and toward others. Though vulnerability can confuse and
shame us, something stirs deep within: a desire for the support,
encouragement, simply the presence, of others. What makes this
desire for the presence and intimacy of others so attractive is its
promise of shared vulnerability. Weakness and inadequacy, when
locked in loneliness, are intensified and dash hopes, whereas shared
vulnerabil ity, always part of genuine community, brings encour-
agement and throws open the window of hope.
In this way, vulnerabili ty introduces a thi rd aspect of the celi-
bate portrai t. The innate vulnerability and desire for love and inti-
macy all the part of us all, focus the gaze of our hearts reverently
and hopefully on one another, in a CODl munitarian attitude that is
also essenti al to the authentic celibacy of the di ocesan priest today.
Often di ocesan priesthood, because it is not part of Religious Life, is
presumed not to include any serious, all-encompaSSing communi-
tarian dimension. In my opinion, this is a serious mistake, with
pain ful implications for many aspects of the diocesan priest's life,
but especially in the area of hi s authentic celibate lifestyle.
Celibacy is not a li festyle for a priest to struggle with all by him-
self. It is not an area of human experi ence where victory is forced in
masculine power and courage. No, t he celibacy of the diocesan
priest is not meant to exist all by itself. Diocesan priestly celibacy
involves a disti nct communitarian attitude, an atti tude lU1ambigu-
ously rooted both in a shared spousal companions hi p wi th God
and in a shared sense of mission. Quite different from an expected
ongoing physical presence, the sharing of companionship with God
and of mission forms a clear, definite attitude and bond in the heart
of every priest. In this communi ty, no one is left out lilless he cuts
himself out. The communitarian support, rooted in acknowledged
vulnerability and desired brotherhood in spirituality and mission,
extends even beyond the experience of priestl y support groups and
friendships, wonderful gifts in themselves. This shared attitude of
commitment and mission binds together in support and encour-
agement, way beyond physical presence, a whole presbyterate
gathered around its brother bishop.
This communal atti tude, focused in a shared vulnerability, is
centrall y related to diocesan priestly obedience as a shared life of
mission in being sent, as Jesus is sent (Aschenbrenner, Quickening
the Fire in Our Midst, chapter 12). The mission in companionship
resulting from healthy practice of pries tl y obedience stretches
across a whole presbytera te. It does not substitute for human vul-
nerability, but shares it in an attractive way that encourages, sup-
ports and serves the people of a diocese to W1ity in God's love. But
this personal vulnerability in 21st century culture is often stone-
walled to denial in an arrogantly autonomous individualism. This
frigid, frightened denial, when melted in the contemplative loving
gaze, reestablishes a beautifully human vulnerability that does not
shi eld people out of the celibate's life, but promises a bond of sup-
port from God, from a whole presbyterate of brothers, and from
a wider pari sh comlnunity.
4. Generositlj and Generativihj. Selfless generosi ty is not easy in
a culture whose atmosphere blows subtl y yet strongly with a nar-
cissistic wind. But contemplation-always the heart of the matter
here-gradually restores the health of an innately transcendent
human heart and shifts the focus away from self to God and to all
the brothers and sisters of the human family. Comfortably ensconced
within the li mits of self-concern, a transcendent human heart at first
squirms and then, finally, is nauseated with the frustration of such
narrow imprisonment. A developing generosity toward others is
always a sign of human maturity.
Regarding the authentic celibate lifestyle, generosity is the final
essential sign. Without settling for too functional and pragmatic an
understanding (W. P. Sheridan, "Functionalism Undermining
Priesthood," H,m1n11 Development [Fall 1999], 12-16), the authentic
celibate is profoundly stirred to an enthusiastic generativity. In the
rushed superficial complacency of an indi viduali stic culture, how-
ever, that piercing stare of contemplation is needed to unleash
a religious generativity in the heart. This generativity wi ll extend
and en flesh contemplati on in the challenges of daily loving service,
a genuinely generous service that does not count the cost. In this
way, contemplation, as it matures will transform some hearts and
lead beyond the natural attractiveness of the physical to the gen-
uine generativity of a spiritual fatherhood.
This call, while not fearing, but reverencing faithful genital rela-
tionship, invites one into the realm of the spirit in a fatherhood,
spiritual and genuinely generative. The stage of true generativity
in human development always requires that its essential founda-
tions of identity and intimacy be lively and intact. If either or both
of these religious realities have faltered, then surely the glow and
enthusiasm of generativity will fade quickly. This returns us to two
of the previously described essential qualities: the cO:1templative
and the vulnerable. The appeal of celibate generativity cannot
engage men if they are not rooted in a contemplative personal love
with God, and are not supported and encouraged in their honest
acknowledgment of vulnerability by others, who share the lifestyle
of a celibate fatherhood. As mentioned earlier, these four qualities
of an authentic celibate lifestyle share an essential interrelationship.
No combination involving less than all four will consti tute authen-
tic diocesan priestly celibacy in our contemporary culture. But, to
state the case more positively and hopefully, when all four of these
qualities coalesce in someone's heart, authentic celibacy assumes
a compelling attractiveness in a life of distinctive service for God.
This distinctive celibate lifestyle in service also speaks a mes-
sage beyond words, a message very important and challenging to
our sexually distorted and preoccupied culture. The witness of
a joyous generative, religious celibacy s peaks a countercultural
message, not belligerently, but loudly and clearly. The three follow-
ing statements radiate resoundingly from this lifestyle beyond any
spotlighted verbal expression. The nobility and maturity of being
a man is not limited to genital prowess, but is highlighted it)
responsible, selfless loving with all sorts of people. The desire and
need of the human heart for intimacy and love can be healthily
filled without genital involvement. For the mature man, the joy
excitement of life is found in genuine love and not just in ge:rutall
activity. These pronouncements when gleaming from a joyful
bate lifestyle of service remind our culture of basic sexual
essential to any mature human society.
In the realm of generativity and healthy interpersonal
authentic celibacy also warns against immature manipulative
tionship. Each of the following three malformed rp).ti nn<h;n.,<
lates an authentic celibate commitment without
involving genitality. Though these are frequent, facile,
compensations for authentic celibacy in our secular culture,
resisted, they teach our society about all true human rpl.hnn
The "bachelor" syndrome radiates a superior, detached,
tude toward other people seriously involved with life's
The "workaholic" syndrome compulsively searches for,
its chief and most significant satisfaction in, relating to
things rather than in the love affair of life with a variety of .
The" clerical" syndrome is based on an unfounded sense of
ori ty with exaggerated expectations of respect and nr;v;)po'P":
a celibate li festyle avoids the extreme of each of these
dromes, then it is authentic, and it instructs secular so,cietv..·ll!f
another important way (for more treatment of these three Imm,t"
ture relationships, see Aschenbrenner, Quickening Ihe Fire in
Midst, 124-25). But such authentic celibacy is never possible'
contemporary American culture without the proper consl:ellaiiRB
of the four essential aspects treated here. This is the central
of this long discussion.
Some simple, clear conclus ions both summari ze the points of thi s
articl e and formulate some specific cha Uenges if we are to facil itate
the choi ce by seminarians of authentic 'celibacy in our contempo-
rary American culture.
Fi rst, though some basic care of self is always needed, mature
human living, finally, is always a matter of sacrificial love for God
and for all other people.
Second, joyful generati ve celibacy always involves the proper
balance and time distribution among the four essential elements for
integra ted li ving of an authentic celibate lifestyle. As we move
through the different phases of our lives, the amount of time and
energy spent on individual ones of the four essential characteristics
will vary without upsetting the integrated balance for authenti c
celibate li ving. For example, in contrast to younger years, a man of
more elderl y age will involve himself more with contemplation
than with generative service.
ll1ird, as always, people need to see joyful, healthy celibate lives
of service; but today they also need to hear appropriate articulation
of the di stinctive sign value of celibate identity and service within
the whole People of God. It is easy in the face of today's many dif-
ficult challenges qui ckl y to argue against celibacy without appreci-
ati ng its profound spiritual Significance beyond the superficial
realm of practice and performance. By thi s, I do not mean to over-
look or justify public vi olations of cel ibate lifestyle. Rather, I think it
is now too easy a mistake to presume people's appreciati on of the
sign value of celibacy. In these days, however, besides being lived
joyfully and eagerly, such a sign value also needs to be explained
clearly and practically
Fourth, without enclaves of profoundly contemplative atmos-
phere in our culture, authentic celibate lifestyle will neither seem
attractive nor flourish. We lTIUSt" all do lots of hard work in devel-
oping these contemplative enclaves in many situations: in families,
in parishes, in seminaries, in campus mini stry settings, in faith
groups of reflection and sharing, in diocesan vocational situations
of discernment programs and live-in communities-and in many
other situations. Secular life in a culture stripped in many ways of
this contemplative aura will not, on its own, bud forth vocations to
an authentic celiba te lifes tyle. Such vocations mllst be cultivated
and nourished in a seriously contemplative context.
The Institute for Priest ly Formation, based at Creighton Univer-
sity in Omaha, Nebraska, is a good example of a program aimed at
nourishing a serious celibate atmosphere for the vocational devel-
opment of seminarians and priests. In a ten-week slimmer program,
in 30-day retreats, in training programs for priests as spiritual direc-
tors and in other experiences, it is doing the hard work needed to
create the contemplative context within which the authentic celibate
li festyle of a diocesan priest can flouri sh.(J am co-founder at this
Institute. For further information, contact Father Ri chard Gabuzda
at Creighton University, 2500 California Pl aza, Omaha, NE 68178-
0522 [Phone: 402-546-6384]; e-mail:
Filth, diocesan priests must seriously develop a belief in and
a concrete practice of the essentially communitarian bond appro- !
priate to their vocation in the church. Such a bond unites all the -1
priests of a presbyterate around their brother bishop and with the i
people of a diocese whom they serve. No pries t is left out, unless I
he cuts himself out. Supporting one another in their service as spir- :l
itual fathers of the people, diocesan priests wi ll galvanize an attrac- ~ .
tion for celibate priesthood. i
Sixth, this ar ticle makes clear the serious challenge that our con- ~
temporary culture provides for the cultivation of an authentic celi- 1
bate lifes tyle, and it poses, finally, a simple di rect questi on: Are we
up to this challenge? I have no doubt that God is up to this chal-
lenge. [ suspect that God continues to call enough men to celibacy
for the good of the Church and of our world. Whether bishops,
seminary administrators, spi ritual directors, vocation directors, and
olher officials are up to the challenge facing us depends upon
a number of things: our understa nding of diocesan priesthood, our
vi ew of celibacy and the cultural ai r we conti nue to breathe.
1, myself, believe that, with great generosity and hard work, we can
respond to this great Challenge. This article has tried to describe the
challenge and to invite our response. Obviously this author cannot
finesse the resol ution on hi s own. Each and everyone of us has
a serious role to play before God "whose power, working in us, can
do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:2").

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